The Food Standards Agency is investigating breaches of BSE and meat regulations following the importation of Irish beef last week.

Vertebral column, classified as specified risk material - but of much lower risk than spinal cord - was found in beef shipped from Fair Oaks Foods (Carlow) Ltd in Bagenalstown, Ireland. Under European law, SRM must be removed immediately after slaughter, stained and disposed of safely.

The receiving company, Anglo Dutch Meats (ADM) Ltd in Eastbourne was not responsible for the problem.

The Chief Veterinary Officer of Ireland and the European Commission have been notified of this breach.

The name of the Irish meat plant concerned will be added to the list of European abattoirs from which beef containing SRM has been imported into the UK.

Since October 2000 there have been 24 cases where imported beef has been found with SRM attached.  So far seven plants have had their licences temporarily suspended (three in Germany, two in the Republic of Ireland and one each in Italy and the Netherlands) until the deficiencies in control are rectified.